TV

The Madness of Minor Characters

Thembi Ford

The oddness of minor characters on Six Feet Under often led to the Fishers acting not quite like themselves, illuminating just how normal they were when compared to the rest of the world.

One of the great strengths of Six Feet Under is how well we came to know the main characters, the Fisher family and all their neuroses. Even when Ruth, Nate, David, or Claire did something out of character, we usually knew that it was growth and not insanity that drove their actions. But in some cases, the oddness of minor characters on the series predictably led to a Fisher acting “not quite like themselves,” illuminating just how “normal” the Fishers were when compared to the rest of the world. This show introduced some major weirdos to our lives, such as…

Angela

When Rico leaves Fisher & Sons to work for Kroehner, Nate and David decide that they need another embalmer and conduct a quickie set of interviews. Kind of like the Craigslist ad that yields a host of weirdos save one semi-normal candidate who seems innocuous at first meeting, Angela impressed the brothers by telling them that she considers this work “her calling,” and got the job. The first thing Angela does is apologize to Nate for having had calamari for dinner. When Nate asks what she means by that she answers, “Well, let’s just say this is one time the strong smell of formaldehyde really comes in handy,” actress Illeana Douglas in this role providing a matter-of-fact quirkiness that convinces the viewer that she is definitely very gassy. She only gets more inappropriate from there.

On her first and only day at work, Angela wears a snake-print top that somehow manages to be super low-cut and expose her midriff, with tight jeans that flash her thong every time she bends over. This ensemble is so inappropriate for working with the dead -- for working anyplace without a stripper pole actually -- that one wonders where she even found such rags. Between her probing into the love lives of Nate, Ruth, and David (even correctly guessing that David is gay and offering to fix him up), we know that Angela’s time at Fisher & Son’s will be short-lived. This woman just cannot take the hint to shut up, but her work is impeccable, so there are no grounds to fire her.

The solution? When one of Ruth’s goblets turns up shattered, Nate and David know exactly who to blame and fire. Sure she broke it, but she justifiably kept it to herself because “everyone here is so fragile.” Nate and David aren’t usually the type to care about trinkets, and both struggle to become more open people, but in the case of the nutty embalmer who couldn’t keep anything to herself, the Fishers figured that if Angela’s approach to life meant being happy, it’s better to just stay depressed.

Olivier Castro-Staal

Watching Claire start classes at LACC Arts was like a flashback to someone else’s life, especially if you were a real cynic and not a cynic who hoped for the best, like Claire hated to admit. Who wouldn’t want a dynamic mentor who considers your field more important than even you do and sees more potential in you than you see in yourself? Olivier started out as that person.

The actor who portrayed Olivier, Peter Macdissi, is of Lebanese and Armenian heritage, but what the heck was Olivier? Maybe Argentinean, maybe Turkish, maybe some kind of Moor? Who knows. His decadent semi-Eurotrash, schizophrenic passion was intriguing but quickly proved itself to be utterly annoying. “You’re eighteen, you should be consumed with sex! Your flesh should be on fire all the time!” What kind of teacher says that to a student couple? The kind who wants to have sex with either or both of that couple’s members, that’s who. Olivier very uncraftily sends Claire to Azusa for a meaningless errand and suggests she leave Russell with him, proclaiming “what would we do when you are in Azusa anyhow?” Claire answers: “Fuck.” Thanks for the suggestion! Once Olivier is alone with Russell, he of course seduces him. Claire eventually learns about this tryst, which probably wasn’t as tough of a sell as one would hope. She blows up at Olivier a few times but what can she really say? Russell wasn’t really worth it, but Olivier was such a disturbing person.

Carol Ward

This entry is a bit of a cheat because Lisa isn’t really a Fisher, but as much as she initially seemed like a free-spirit, once we watched her approach to being a wife and mother we learn that the woman was more neurotic than all of the Fishers combined. And thanks to actress Catherine O’Hara’s unique skill at playing deranged, Lisa’s boss Carol is perhaps the most searingly upsetting minor character to ever appear on the show. She has a special pointed way of speaking in passive aggressive code that lets whoever is listening know that they are not as important as she is and they have already done something or other wrong. Her life as a Hollywood bigwig is probably no picnic, but must she act like everything about her life is such a drag and everyone is her enemy out to get her?

From parking in the driveway to showing up while she’s doing her morning laps naked, Nate can’t seem to get on the right side of this woman. When it comes to Carol’s interaction with Lisa, things are much worse; Lisa serves as part time chef, part time therapist, part time punching bag, and of course part time babysitter to this lunatic. After a particularly ridiculous argument during which Carol tells Lisa that she’s not being sensitive to her needs and perhaps should ease up on the mommy thing, Lisa quits with a bang, telling her that if she’d known she “was being hired to be a wet nurse she would have asked for healthcare.” Yes, that’s as rambunctious as Lisa can get. When Nate hears the news and stiffly questions the reasoning behind her decision to just up and quit, she admits “I snapped, my humanity just rose up…” No regard for the future of her family or child? That’s real non-Lisa behavior right there.

Arthur Martin

Six Feet Under made people who work with the dead seem so normal. Enter Arthur Martin, the mortuary school intern who comes to live with the Fishers and help out downstairs. Expertly played by a pre-The Office Rainn Wilson, Arthur has a strangeness about him that we’d expect from a young man who’d want to live in a funeral home: awkwardly bespectacled, stilted in speech, always with a handkerchief on hand. Remember that this is a twenty-something who was home-schooled by his elderly aunt and apparently has more in common with Ruth when it comes to ways of living than with his peers; she is so delighted by him that she visits his room frequently and sits there listening to his horrible pseudo-techno sounding “music.”

She finally puts on a floppy hat and sunglasses, stalking him during his afternoon run. I don’t mean she just went there and pretended to feed the ducks; she actually peers at him from behind a tree as he pits out a dingy t-shirt along the Pan Pacific Park jogging path. Ruth knows she’s being crazy because she imagines him busting her on the stalking, but she still ends up trying to kiss him multiple times, only to be refused by the prudish eccentric. This is definitely Ruth at her most bizarre. When she tries to initiate physical romance with him to no avail, one can’t help but feel badly that she’s clearly looking for love in all the wrong places. Arthur seems ready to make things happen, but can only conjure physical intimacy with an alien, cat-like head-butting, nuzzling gesture. Fed up with his lack of physical interest in her, Ruth asks, “Arthur, have you ever had sex?” He answers, "I think I have... in a sense.” Even Ruth can’t work with that.

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